Officials: At least 12 people killed overnight in Venezuela clashes

Posted: April 21, 2017 at 11:15 a.m.
Updated: April 21, 2017 at 2:15 p.m.

A demonstrator in Caracas joins another day of protests Thursday against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose government seized a General Motors plant Wednesday.

CARACAS, Venezuela — At least 12 people were killed overnight after looting and violence in Venezuela's capital amid a political crisis, authorities said Friday.

Most of the deaths took place in El Valle, a working-class neighborhood near Caracas' biggest military base where opposition leaders say 13 people were hit with an electrical current while trying to loot a bakery protected by an electric fence.

Two days of large protests on the streets of Caracas against the government of President Nicolas Maduro spilled into a violent night in several parts of the city, with residents in El Valle witnessing repetitive gunfire, street barricades set aflame and more than a dozen businesses looted. Amid the confusion, mothers and newborn children had to be evacuated from a maternity hospital named after the late leader Hugo Chavez when it was swamped with tear gas.

The Public Ministry said the violence left 11 people dead in El Valle, all men between the ages of 17 and 45. Another death was reported east of Caracas in El Sucre. Six others were injured.

Opposition leaders blamed the government for repressing protesters with tear gas but standing idly by as businesses were looted. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez pointed the finger at the opposition, saying armed groups controlled by them were responsible for the attack at the hospital.

"We reject and do not accept those irresponsible declarations," said Henrique Capriles, a former presidential candidate who the government recently barred from running for public office.

Earlier Friday, officials reported that one of the dead was Mervins Guitian. The young Venezuelan man was fatally shot when he was returning home late from work Thursday and got caught in the middle of late-night street clashes. Vicente Paez, a local councilman, said Guitian was an employee of a Caracas-area city governed by an opposition mayor and didn't join the protests. It wasn't clear who shot him, and there was no immediate comment from authorities.

Venezuelan social media was ablaze late into the night with grainy cellphone videos of light-armored vehicles plowing down dark streets to control pockets of protesters who set up burning barricades in several neighborhoods.

The opposition said they have no intention of pulling back on protests demanding new elections that were triggered when the government-stacked Supreme Court three weeks ago gutted congress of its last vestiges of power, a move that was later reversed amid a storm of international criticism.

Protesters are angry at what they see as a government that has essentially become a dictatorship responsible for triple-digit inflation, rising crime and food shortages.

"Twenty days of resistance, and we feel newly born," said opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara during an evening, outdoor news conference as residents looking out from balconies in an eastern Caracas neighborhood at the heart of the protest movement cheered loudly in support.

The next planned protest is Saturday, when opponents are being asked to dress in white and march silently to commemorate the victims of the demonstration. There's also a sit-in to block major highways planned for Monday.

Read Saturday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.